Sunday, June 26, 2011

The President Vanishes

Yhteiskunnan haaskalinnut. US 1934. D: William Wellman. Based on the novel (1934) by Rex Stout [not translated into Finnish]; SC: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, Lynn Starling, Carey Wilson, Cedric Worth, Lynn Starling; DP: Barney McGill; ED: Hanson T. Fritch; M: Edward B. Powell, Hugo Riesenfeld, Clifford Vaughan; Cast: Edward Arnold (Wardell), Arthur Byron (Presidente Stanley Craig), Paul Kelly (Chick Moffat), Peggy Conklin (Alma Cronin), Andy Devine (Val Orcott), Janet Beecher (Sig.ra Craig), Osgood Perkins (Harris Brownell), Sidney Blackmer (D.L. Voorman), Edwar Ellis (Lincoln Lee), Irene Franklin (Sig.ra Orcott), Charley Grapewin (Richard Norton), Rosalind Russell (Sally Voorman), Robert McWade (Vice Presidente Molleson), DeWitt Jennings (Cullen), Walter Kingsford (Drew); P: Paramount Pictures, Walter Wanger Productions; Pri. pro.: 17 novembre 1934. 35 mm. 80’. B&w. English version. From: Library of Congress. Sunday 26 June 2011 at 14.30 at Cinema Arlecchino, Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato).

Catalogue: "In The President Vanishes, as critic Charles Wolfe has pointed out, the looks at the camera by the media magnate and his broadcasters as they proclaim “Save Our Country’s Honor” evoke the factual, authoritative, narrated documentary of the era. When the president triumphs over his opponents in the film’s final scene, he looks directly at the camera and explains: “I don’t ask your answer because I know it. I have faith in the American people.” Such a startling confrontation of the audience was fitting in a film with provocative content."

"But of course it was the content of The President Vanishes which provoked the greatest discussion, for, thanks in part to Wanger’s choice of screenwriter Wilson, it was a virtual remake of the outrageous Gabriel over the White House. Like that first film, this one presumed to show how the president and Congress work and live with corrupt politicians whose pro-war votes are bought by industry leaders. The threat of Gabriel over the White House’s Bonus Marchers becomes The President Vanishes vigilante Brown Shirts who foment violence on city street."

"The most crucial difference between The President Vanishes and Gabriel over the White House involved the former’s conception of the president. Unlike President Hammond who openly dismisses Congress and becomes a dictator, this president uses subterfuge to distract the Country’s attention from the European war cry. Unlike the isolated President Hammond who gets his inspiration from unseen forces, President Stanley, portrayed by the paternalistic Byron, adopts his plan during a domestic poker game with his wife (who suggests he play “another hand”). (…)"

"As The Nation’s William Troy pointed out, the film upheld a double standard: hawkish mob manipulators are a menace while the pacifist President is a hero, even though he never responds to the problems of unemployment and trade deficits which the warmongers seek to solve. (…) Other implications were less subtle. The second scene implied, more forcefully that any film up that time, that America’s capitalist economy depended on war." (Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wanger, Hollywood Independent, University of Minnesota Press, 2000)."

AA: This rare William Wellman film I had never seen before. It is an interesting story from the period when Wellman made some strong pictures with a social consciousness such as Wild Boys of the Road. Based on a novel by Rex Stout, it is no Nero Wolfe mystery but an a social epic with close affinities with Gabriel over the White House, as stated above. Fascinating but not completely successful.

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